By Sarah Watson
It’s inevitable, if you put a group of people in close proximity for 40 hours a week, there’s a high possibility that there’s going to be some conflict. Some disagreement at work is a good thing. It shows that there is healthy and open discussion, and that employees are not afraid to voice their concerns and problems. However, while conflicts about work issues may be healthy, conflicts about personality and work styles are not.
The first step in managing disputes is to understand the disagreement. Once the problem has been diagnosed, it’s important to first ask each person if they want the relationship to survive. If not, there is no point in continuing the conversation. Both parties must want the relationship to work and be willing to work toward a solution. If you have a divisive employee who is unwilling to try to resolve it, you may have to remove them from your team or department. If they do want to work toward a solution, start by asking these three questions:
- Which of your behaviors is damaging the relationship?
- Which of the other person’s behaviors is damaging the relationship?
- Would you be willing to change one of your behaviors if the other person will change one of theirs?
Of course, it would be easier to nip problems in the bud so conflicts never rise to this level. As managers, you can create an environment that leads to fewer disputes by:
- Having well-defined job descriptions – Many employee disputes arise from fuzzy job descriptions that lead to turf wars. By clearly defining each employee’s job description, you can minimize team conflict.
- Asking employees nonthreatening, open-ended questions – Don’t be afraid to be direct with employees to get to the heart of their problems. Keep conversations with employees confidential to encourage total honesty and trust.
- Have clear policies – Sometimes policies are your best friends, especially in objective areas like attendance, quality, and performance standards. Determine your expectations, let your employees know what they are, and manage by those expectations.
These tips will help, but no office, no matter what the culture, will be completely dispute-free all the time. When conflicts do come up, remember to address issues quickly. Letting people harbor grudges for too long can lead to bigger problems down the road. Employees who resent each other will be less productive, unhappier at work and more likely to leave the organization.
If you find yourself in your own disagreement, whether it’s with a subordinate or another manager, remember communication 101 rules still apply. Be specific when addressing issues. Saying, “You’re rude,” automatically closes the other person off. Instead, address specific behaviors like, “You leave your dirty dishes in the sink for others to clean up.” This way, they know specifically which behaviors are bothering you, rather than vague accusations that put them on the defensive.
Keep in mind that if you’re forming your response while the other person is talking, you’re not listening. A good strategy is to let one person speak and have the other repeat back what was said in their own words. If that’s too formal, try beginning your sentences by saying, “Let me see if I understand what you’re saying. Your concern is…” This way each person has the opportunity to be heard and voice their concerns. It also ensures both parties are on the same page.
Lastly, don’t go into a meeting with your own solution and plan of action already figured out. Work with everyone involved to come up with a solution and plan. Brainstorm ideas together and don’t worry about who comes up with the solution. Remember, the goal is to resolve the issue.
How do you manage conflicts in the workplace?